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What Kind of Dog Was Cujo? Famous Dogs Presented

Melissa Gunter

By Melissa Gunter


Have you ever read a book in the middle of the night that left you terrified? Your mind plays tricks on you and you envision the scenes in your head, hoping to never actually see them play out in real life. One of the authors most famous for bringing this kind of reaction to his fan base is Stephen King. Known as Sai King to his legions of followers, the morbid man from Maine has a way with words that can leave you peeping out from under the bed covers when the house gets dark.

One of Stephen King’s most popular works is the horror novel, Cujo. Readers found themselves cringing at the details included in the pages while simultaneously feeling sorry for the main character in the book, a once caring and loving dog. For those who haven’t read the book, or seen the movie that was released only a few years later, the question of what kind of dog was Cujo is one of the first they ask when they hear about the story. Oddly enough, Stephen King chose to use a St. Bernard, one of the friendliest dogs around to bring terror and fear to the minds of millions. Let’s take a walk on the dark side and learn more about Cujo and why so many are terrified at just the sound of his name.

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The Inspiration

The last thing you think of when you see a St. Bernard is a dangerous dog. These dogs have been associated with rescues and keeping people safe for years. Unfortunately, for Stephen King, that wasn’t always the case. The author hasn’t been shy when it comes to admitting his drug and drinking problems over the years. During the height of these issues, he sat down to write a book about his encounter with an aggressive St. Bernard at a random mechanic shop in Maine.

In the spring of 1977, King was having issues with the motorcycle he was riding. As he pulled into a mechanic’s shop in Bridgton, Maine the motorcycle died on the spot. While this would normally be the right place for this to happen, the emergence of a growling St. Bernard made the entire situation one he would always remember. During his time at the shop, the St. Bernard growled, barked, and even lunged at the author’s hand. Luckily, the shop owner was able to deal with his guard dog and the author walked away unscathed, for the most part.


Image Credit by: Stephen King and Warner Bros, – All rights reserved to the copyright owners.

The Story

Like so many of King’s novels, Cujo takes place in Castle Rock, Maine. For those not familiar with King’s works, Castle Rock is a fictional town where several of his stories take place. Two families are the main characters presented in the book: the Trentons and the Cambers. The Trentons are new to the area and bring quite a bit of baggage with them. Husband and wife, Vic and Donna are having issues. Donna has recently had an affair and Vic’s advertising agency is struggling. Their 4-year-old Tad is the glue keeping them together. The Camber family is the complete opposite of the Trentons. Joe and Charity Camber have a volatile relationship. Joe abuses his wife and isn’t the greatest to his son, 10-year-old Brett. Then there is the main character, the fun-loving, friendly St. Bernard, Cujo.

While members of each family take off on out-of-town trips, Donna and Tad make their way to Joe Camber’s garage to get help with their busted-up Pinto. What they don’t know, however, is that sweet Cujo has been playing and chasing rabbits when he stuck his nose somewhere it didn’t belong and was bitten by a rabid bat. This sets off a horrific turn of events when Cujo, often written in the first person in the book depicting the pain and confusion he is going through, turns vicious, killing several people and trapping Donna and her son on the Camber’s farm.

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Bringing the Words to the Big Screen

While the book itself is horrifying, seeing a vicious St. Bernard on the big screen chilled moviegoers to the bone. The idea of such loving and caring dogs “going bad” was unheard of. In some scenes Cujo was seen covered in blood, ramming his head into the side of the broken-down Pinto. Set in the summer, the mother and child were left in the blazing heat as the rabid dog advanced each time he heard a noise or saw a lot of movement from them. It was truly nightmare fuel to witness and left many people fearful of St. Bernards after seeing it.

Behind the Scenes

But how did movie makers make such a gentle giant like the St. Bernard act viciously? It wasn’t easy. Known as Alpine rescue dogs, St. Bernards are nanny dogs. They are excellent with children and are often described as giant goofballs. One thing is quite well known about this breed, however, they are difficult to train. The makers of the movie Cujo found this out quickly. They needed four St. Bernards for scenes, a mechanical dog, and even used other, better-trained dogs in costumes. It was just so difficult to get these gentle giants to act viciously at the camera or the car.

female saint bernard outside
Image Credit by: Artush, Shutterstock

Could It Really Happen?

While the master of horror, Stephen King added elements of the supernatural into his book Cujo, they weren’t at the forefront of what scared people the most. No, it was the disease the once loving Cujo suffered from, rabies. This left many pet owners questioning whether something like that could happen to their pets. Unfortunately, the answer is yes, if they aren’t vaccinated.

Rabies¹ is a virus that is passed through saliva. In most cases, a bite from an infected animal is how rabies is spread to other animals and even humans. It’s even possible for saliva from an infected animal to get into open wounds or sores. Once contracted, the virus attacks the nervous system and is almost always fatal. Like in the story Cujo, the majority of rabies cases around the world stem from bites from bats but several mammals can carry it. Here’s a look at the signs of rabies so pet owners can be aware of what they may witness if they haven’t had their pet properly vaccinated against the virus.

  • Aggression
  • Fearfulness
  • Staggering
  • Excessive drooling
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Self-mutilation
  • Depression
  • Sensitivity to light

Wild animals with rabies are often characterized as displaying unnatural behaviors like losing their fear of humans or nocturnal animals roaming during the day. Once the clinical signs of rabies appear, there is no treatment. If you see an animal exhibiting these signs, call for help immediately.

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Final Thoughts

Cujo, a once happy St. Bernard, made his way into our nightmares at the hands of Stephen King and his ability to plant fear in our hearts and minds. That doesn’t mean every St. Bernard out there is a rabid giant. On the contrary, these huge dogs are considered one of the sweetest, most loving breeds available. Like with any pet, however, if they are not cared for properly, especially vaccinated, bad things can happen. If you’ve always dreamed of having a St. Bernard, don’t let books and movies change your mind. Simply keep up with their vaccinations and love them as they deserve.


Featured Image Credit: Characters by  Warner Bros. Pictures.  All rights reserved to the copyright owners.

Melissa Gunter

Authored by

Melissa was born and raised in the mountains of East Tennessee where she spent her time writing in an old notebook and playing outside with her pets. As an avid animal lover, she has brought many into her home over the years. Currently, she is the mom of 5 fur babies. Her 2 cats, Princess and Pepper are total opposites who demand attention. Her dogs Jazzy, Whitey, and Demon are full of spunk and keep the entire family on ...Read more

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